Washington, DC — The United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, promised Tuesday that he will "remember to listen and not forget to learn."
Briefing the African American Unity Caucus in Washington, DC, Carson outlined a broad agenda, saying the Africa policy of the Barack Obama administration will focus on four key areas:
- Promoting and strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law;
- Assisting in the prevention and resolution of conflicts;
- Encouraging long-term development and growth; and
- Working with African nations to address old and new challenges.
"Enormous progress" over the last 15 years "is evident," said Carson, citing successful elections in Ghana and South Africa over the last six months.
Nine African nations are "clearly defined as free and democratic," he added, referring to a Freedom House poll. Another 23, according to this poll, are "partially free." He said that in 1973 most African nations were categorized as "not free."
"We constantly have to encourage those in civil society to be the voice and conscience of their countries, and we have to promote constitutional democratic governments, strong court systems, strong legislatures, regular elections, free media, and religious tolerance," Carson said.
There are huge challenges, Carson told the caucus. "Democratic instability in Kenya" is a large concern. In Sudan, despite a peace deal reached in 2005 "all is still not perfect; all is still not well."
Although he gave no details, Carson noted that rival Sudanese parties have been engaged in talks in Washington this week. Some analysts think that the 2011 referendum on whether the south continues as a part of Sudan will be postponed.
Zimbabwe, Somalia and the eastern Congo are also of great concern. Global recession is battering Africa.
And there are new previously unforeseen challenges, said Carson. Global warming heads this list. The ice glacier atop Mount Kenya is rapidly melting and may actually disappear in another decade or two. Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro is suffering the same fate. The loss of water from spring snow melt will affect both commercial and non-commercial lowland crops.
Drug trafficking "is now a significant issue," said Carson. In Guinea-Bissau, there is "strong suspicion" that the recent assassinations of presidential candidate Baciro Dabo and former defense minister Helder Proenca may be related to the drug trade. Carson called the West African nation Africa's first "narco-trafficking state."
Solutions to all of Africa's problems, and helping the continent reach its full potential, won't come quickly or easily, but, said Carson, "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is actively engaged. Full stop!"
More money will be going into agriculture for two reasons, he continued: "One is to lift people out of poverty and the other one is to help grow agriculture,"
Furthermore, in his experience, "No president has engaged Africa this early." Obama will visit Ghana next month and has accepted an invitation to attend the World Cup in South Africa next year.
Other visits to Africa are likely, said Carson, either on the way to, or coming from, other parts of the world.